Drive time: Less than 4 hours.
Four of the Civil War’s bloodiest battlefields: Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Courthouse, The Wilderness, Fredericksburg. Very few places in the nation offer a more in-depth and dramatic historical perspective of the war, or a more appropriate place to commemorate its sesquicentennial.
But there’s a happier side to Fredericksburg history. George Washington slept here—for 16 years between the ages of 6 and 22—and his family left a rich legacy that the city and surrounding counties are happy to share. (All attractions are located in Fredericksburg, unless otherwise noted.)
Co-owner Dan Spear relocated and restored the seven private 18th- and 19th-century cottages and homes (including one owned by George Washington’s grandfather) that make up the Inn at Stevenson Ridge. Its 87 wooded acres feature a fishing pond. $135-$150 weekdays, $165-$175 weekends; mansion suite $285. 6901 Meeting St., Spotsylvania; (540) 538-3777, stevensonridge.com.
At Bistro Bethem, chef Blake Bethem offers a Southern American menu (think monkfish with crispy grits) that changes daily. Don’t miss the coconut cake. Entrées from the low $20s. 309 William St.; (540) 371-9999, bistrobethem.com.
Join the locals at Amy’s Café for “grandma’s” potato soup and “stuffed” eggs. Entrées from $9.95. 103 W. Cambridge St., Falmouth; (540) 373-3663, amyscafefalmouth.com.
• Get yourself oriented on one of the 75-minute, guided Trolley Tours of Fredericksburg. $17. Fredericksburg Visitor Center, 706 Caroline St.; (540) 898-0737, fredericksburgtrolley.com.
• Spend a morning or afternoon browsing the antique shops and malls along Caroline Street and at the 40-studio LibertyTown Arts Workshop (916 Liberty St.; 540-371-7255, libertytownarts.com).
• Take a guided Segway tour of downtown Frederickburg or the battlefield. $59-$69. (540) 656-2760, otsegtours.com.
• Experience history-in-the-making as archaeologists uncover George Washington’s childhood home at Ferry Farm. $8. 268 Kings Highway; (540) 370-0732, kenmore.org.
• Rent a kayak ($35-$40) or canoe ($55-$60) from Clore Bros. Outfitters and spend the day paddling, swimming, fishing and picnicking on the Rappahannock River. 5927 River Road; (540) 786-7749, clorebros.com.
• Early-20th-century Impressionist painter Gari Melchers may have been more famous in Europe than he was here, but you’ll question why when you visit his home and studio at Belmont. $10. 224 Washington St.; (540) 654-1015, umw.edu/gari_melchers.
• Tour the battlefields at Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania Courthouse and the Wilderness on your own or, for a few bucks, rent or buy a self-guided CD tour or download an iPhone app (visitfred.com).
• Check the schedule at the University of Mary Washington for free concerts. 1301 College Ave.; (540) 654-1055, umw.edu.
• The thousands of artifacts at White Oak Civil War Museum & Research Center are impressive, but talking to owner D.P. Newtown, a virtual Civil War encyclopedia, is priceless. $4. 985 White Oak Road, Falmouth; (540) 371-4234, whiteoakmuseum.com.
• Rising Sun Tavern was once the home of Charles Washington (George’s youngest brother). But it’s best remembered as a tavern where today entertaining historical tours are hosted by period-costumed wenches and indentured servants. $5. 1304 Caroline St.; (540) 373-1776, apva.org/risingsuntavern.
Goolrick’s Pharmacy & Soda Fountain is the real mid-19th-century McCoy, complete with cheap eats (breakfast starts at $1.50, lunch at $3) and old-fashioned shakes and malteds. 901 Caroline St., (540) 373-3411.